Lone Rangers to Power Rangers…thinking about spiritual gifts.

It’s common today, especially within charismatic churches, to point out how young children instinctively view themselves as superheroes or princesses in their playacting and that Jesus commanded us to be like little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. There’s an excellent point here that we’re made for adventure. The Christian life is far more than living under a rule book, it’s being empowered by the Spirit living in us to be on adventure with Jesus. Afterall, Holy Spirit doesn’t only produce in us character (Galatians 5 fruits of the Spirit…which is a miracle in itself!), but works in us gifts (1 Cor. 13; Romans 12) and calls us into ministries (Ephesians 4). Praise the Lord!

But here’s a question when we’re thinking about things like Spiritual Gifts….what kind of superheroes are we?

http://therecruitinglab.com/the-lone-ranger-the-rainmaker-or-the-firm-owner-which-business-model-is-right-for-you Sometimes we can act like a Lone Ranger. We live in a society where the individual is king; increasingly we’re wanting products that are customized and personalized for us; we’re wanting to find our ‘dream job’, to only do what fits ‘the real me’…and so we’re first seeking to understand and establish who ‘I am’ before we begin to even think about how we engage with others. There’s something crucial about knowing our identity in Jesus, but things become squiffy if we think finding this identity means focusing on me over and against (or simply without reference to) any other people. Spiritual Gifts become about finding my gift, my place, my ministry…it’s good to know all of these things, but not if this is where we’ll find our identity or if this means we will only serve or relate to churches or ministries where I fit

http://www.ew.com/article/2015/08/06/fantastic-four-original-movies-vaguely-defendedSo it seems common sense to try for something more like the Fantastic Four. We know afterall that there are things we can’t do on our own, that we are called to be part of a team, that the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts when we all work together. Excellent and true, and definitely there is some resonance here with St Paul’s image of the Body of Christ – we’re all one body and individually members of it…we need each other…but I think Paul’s getting at far more than the need for team work… What is so supernatural about that anyway? You don’t need the Holy Spirit to tell you it’s good to be part of a team…
http://movieweb.com/power-rangers-movie-art-zords/

Maybe the superheroes God is forming are more like Power Rangers…remember them? Certainly these awesome foursome had individual gifts and talents, and they did pretty well beating off individual little baddies. But there came a point in every episode where the enemy would suddenly be super-sized to immense proportions and at that stage it wasn’t even enough just to work together…at that stage “it’s morphing time”….they had to actually merge together to become a superhero far larger than they could ever be on their own. They weren’t a group of individuals coordinating efforts…they became a super-sized individual with different parts…one body, many members.

I believe this is an (undoubtedly limited!) analogy for thinking right about the church. We can so emphasize individual salvation, calling, ministry, gifting that the church becomes a voluntary collection of individuals we make important by emphasizing that life is simply better together…

http://movieweb.com/power-rangers-movie-art-zords/…but the truth is far more radical, far more awesome than that. The church is the Body of Christ, made of many members to be sure, but one body united to Christ our head. No member is complete on our own just as no hand is complete without the arm, shoulder, etc, etc…We are one body only together. Reading through 1 Cor 13, Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and many other passage dealing with the body of Christ, I can’t get away from realizing that God deals with the body first and individuals as members of it. In other words, when the Spirit gives gifts He gives them to the body and does so by giving them to individuals… This subtly but significantly shifts our focus. The question isn’t: what gifts have you given me God? It becomes: what gifts are you giving this body and how do you want to use me within it? Suddenly we don’t get jealous when someone has a gift I don’t have or get defensive trying to establish ‘my place’…rather we celebrate that we have this gift and we are firm in our call to this community, this body.

We begin to ask: what are you calling us to as a body…? We discover the adventure is far bigger than we thought…the enemy’s we can fight are far larger than we dreamed…

There’s so much more to say on this and please do say it by leaving a comment below. But at the very least I hope I’ve given you here a thought to ponder – when you think of church membership, of spiritual gifts, of ministry…what superhero are you? We’re saved to be part of a something so much bigger than ourselves… ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ bringing light into darkness, life into dead places…as we celebrate this Christmas let’s remember He’s among us still through His body the church. What an adventure to be part of!

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Commuting with God – Redeeming time on the tube

Here’s one of the biggest challenges facing Christians today: we cannot grow in God without investing time, but time is exactly what we feel we don’t have!

If this really is about relationship rather than religion, then things like reading the Bible, prayer, worship, listening to God are not just tick-box activities that we ‘should do;’ rather they are like gazing into our lover’s eyes and spending quality time together.  This shift in mindset takes away some of the legalistic pressure, but in a different way it makes such time even more important.  Time with God is as important to our Christian walk as time with my wife is important to my marriage…but where do we find the time?

Find the time.  It can feel like a hunt in the dark or looking for a needle in a haystack.  When we’re surrounded by the busyness of life with work, family, home, admin, chores, friends, hobbies, church…where do you find any more minutes in the day let alone hours?!  One of the big changes for us came in moving to London commuter belt and suddenly finding that my wife’s journey to work jumped from 15 minutes to 1 hour each way…add 2 hours of travel into an already squeezed schedule and ‘time with God’ becomes a pipe dream!  (And we don’t even have kids yet!)

So what can we do?  As someone who genuinely wants to grow in relationship with God, but also feels the pressure of competing responsibilities…what can we do?

Shift.  A mind-set shift is helpful here.  ‘Finding time’ often starts from the assumption that we don’t have enough of this scarce commodity.  I want to suggest to you that there is always enough time to do what God has for us to do…and what He has for us to do is all we need.  The challenge is that we don’t start with a blank slate, we start with time already allocated, 24 hours a day, to a host of different things.  Yet this is where the Christian life always begins: when we first met Jesus we weren’t a blank slate; the difference Jesus made wasn’t giving us something to do, but was redeeming who we already were.  We don’t need to ‘find time’ as if it doesn’t exist already – we already have it.  Rather we need to let Jesus come in and ‘redeem the time we already have’.

What does that mean?

It means asking ourselves how we take every moment of the day and invite Jesus into it, to make every minute time spent with God.  When we wake up: praise God for a new day before we get out of bed; as we shower talk to God about anything in life we want washed off; making breakfast thank Jesus for all His provision and pray for the things we need; if we’re making breakfast for others or school lunches, talk to God about the needs of others or the people we’re preparing food for; as we walk through the door at work take a moment to tell God we’re working for Him today so come and fill every task; and on and on we go….!

It means more than that.  It means also asking ourselves: ‘Are there any times of the day that can be given wholly over to God?’  A prime target for this is TUBE TIME…

…Here is a thought we may not have noticed: if you commute to work/school then everyday you have a set amount of time where you can do nothing else but travel.  If you’re on the tube then you have a set amount of time with no phone signal, being uncontactable, where you can’t be expected to do anything for anyone else…all you can do is sit there (or stand with your face in someone’s arm pit…I know!)…and spend time with God….

….Here are 3 simple tools that can help you do that:

Pray As You Go:

This is an amazing resource specifically designed for people to use as they travel.  There is a daily mp3 podcast that lasts about 12 minutes.  It has reflective music, a Bible reading, some questions to think about, then the reading again, finishing with some directions for prayer.  I have found this an incredibly helpful tool for bringing me into a place of peace and focus on God.

Pocket Common Prayer:

God bless the Church of England!  You can download an app to your phone/tablet that brings up automatically the liturgy for Morning, Evening and/or Night Prayer.  I have been loving this recently!  You have right in front of you a series of prayers, readings from Psalms, the Old Testament and the New Testament, followed by some more prayers.  There are even martyrs or saints for particular days that you can look up and read about on Wiki if you like.  Takes about 30 minutes and I have found a really valuable way of regular Bible reading interspersed with Prayer.

YouVersion Bible:

Another app that in one sense simply gives you the Bible on your phone…but also comes with a whole series of reading plans from 2 weeks to a whole year.  There are plans for focusing on particular topics or for reading through all/chunks of the Bible.  It pops up with the reading for the day and ticks them off.  And if you get behind you can simply reset the reading to continue from today.

All 3 of these are simple ways to sit on the tube (or bus or…for the first one…car or walking…), turn on your phone, and be with Jesus.  If you take a few moments before you start just to close your eyes and become aware of God’s presence and ask Him to speak to you…then you can find the tube becomes your chapel, not your chain.

Keeping Time with Jesus: Chronos, Kairos and the Second Coming – Part 6

http://theworldofmore.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/world-of-more-time.jpegIf the primary way of being ready for Jesus is to be known by Him, what does that mean for all the commands to work for the Kingdom, to do good things for God?

All of these flow from relationship.  They are not hurdles to jump through before God will love us.  They are an overflow of being loved, a natural response to knowing who God really is.  This is what we see in the second story from Matthew 25 – the story of the talents.

Again, in order to teach his disciples how to be ready for His return, Jesus told them a story about a master and three servants.  The master went away, but before he did he gave one servant 5 talents, another 2 talents, and another 1 talent.  A talent was a large sum of money and the master asked them to look after this for Him until He returned.

http://jeramiesweet.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Buried-Talents.jpgNow, the first two servants both invested their money and put it to use, and doubled it.  The servant with only one talent hid his in the ground.  When the master returned he called his servants to account.  The first two he was incredibly pleased with.  He said to them ‘Well done good and faithful servant!’ and he gave them 10 cities and 4 cities to look after in return.  The last servant told him that he hid the money and did nothing with it because he knew that his master was a harsh man who ‘reaped where he did not sow’.  The master was angry and threw this servant out giving his talent to the servant who had 10.

What is this all about?

At first glance it can seem that the master really is harsh.  He didn’t give equal amounts to the servants and he gave them different rewards, not to mention throwing the one who had the least out!

Yet a closer look, and understanding the parable of the bridesmaids before, tells us the real issue.  The excuse of the final servant points us to the critical issue the master was looking for.  The value of the servants’ actions wasn’t in how much money they made, but on whether they reflected a right understanding of who He was.  Did His servants know Him?

The servant who hid everything did so because he saw his master as harsh, unjust, not to be trusted.  His one desire was to not upset him.  He took no risks thinking that any mistake would earn punishment, as if that is all the master was interested in.

Truth be told we can often view God like that.  He is the headmaster and waiting for the second coming is like sitting outside his office not knowing when we’ll be called in.  If only we can keep our noses clean and our socks pulled up then we’ll be alright.  If I can think good thoughts and be a nice person without messing up too much, then I’ll be fine.  We completely miss His true character and in doing so we miss who we were really made to be.

Yet the truth is so much better.  Those other servants understood who their master was.  He was a Giver of good gifts, generous, willing to trust, and possessing abundant resources.  If he could spare that kind of money for them to deal with as they pleased, how much more must he have had?

For them to take such great risks of investing everything the master had given them, holding nothing back, they must have known something about his character.  They must have had confidence that, no matter what mistakes they made or how much they lost, He would still love them, trust them, and be able to provide for them.  Knowing this, they gave everything they had.

Our God is not a harsh master looking for a reason to punish us.  He is a bridegroom who loves us and is coming to marry us, to bring us into a feast, to bring us into unbroken relationship with Him.  He calls us ‘good and faithful’.  That is all He longs for from us: that we would recognise His goodness, abundance and love enough to entrust all of ourselves to Him.  Like those talents, everything we have, our very lives, are gifts from Him.  He has more than enough, His heart is to reward our simple faithfulness extravagantly (a city for every talent!), all He wants to see is: do we know Him?  If we do, then we’ll live like it.

Our life right now is often one of chronos.  We’re called to work and to wait.  We get glimpses of encounters with God and seeing Him move.  Every time we do it reminds us of who He is, of His character, His goodness, His love.  It prepares us, excites us, reminds us to be ready for when He finally comes again.  We get ready by keeping our lamps filled with oil.  Even our chronos – our work time – is spent in relationship with Him through the Spirit – our work is to keep connected to Him – to be with Him every moment.  When we know Him we see the gifts He’s given us and we’ll throw our whole selves into living for Him.  In that place we’ll live the lives He’s made us for – lives of working and waiting yes, but also lives of abundance, of expectation, of seeing Him move, of knowing Him.

Take heart my friends.  We’re not called to achieve for God but to be faithful to Him; not to earn His love, but to receive it and live from that place of relationship. 

The ultimate kairos moment is coming: our lover is coming back – our we ready? Do we know Him?

How do I know what to do when…? A simple suggestion for moral dilemmas.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/media/inline/how-your-moral-decisions-shaped-by-mood_1.jpgIt is hard to be holy in this day and age or to even know what ‘being holy’ looks like.  Everyday we face choices and decisions that are far more grey than obviously right or wrong.  So how do we know what to do?

How do we know what to do when we want to stand up for our colleagues but don’t want to lie about their mistakes?

How do we know what to do when we don’t want to judge our friends, but neither do we condone everything they do?

How do we know what to do when we want to pursue a career using our God given gifts, but we’re asked to compromise on the way?

Compromise is the key word.  Rarely are we faced with obvious, cut and dry moral dilemmas.  We’re unlikely to be asked to murder someone or steal something just like that.  Rather we’ll be asked to fudge the edges of the law, take a tiny step towards the line but not necessarily cross it, to do something that makes us feel uncomfortable but we’re not 100% sure why.

Here’s an example that arose from a recent conversation: is it ok for Christian artists to use nudity in their art?

Surely Christians are called to be pure and to live as examples of that purity steering away from the lewdness that can so readily saturate the world we live in.  The idea of a Christian we know painting something explicit, for example, can be shocking.  Yet can it ever be the case that just such a shock is needed to get an important point across?  I remember the anecdote of a well known Christian speaker swearing during an address and then challenging his hearers: “You care more that I just used the word **** than that thousands of children are dying around the world as we speak”.  What if a painting was drawn that exposed the denigration of women in our society or championed the rights of those who suffer from domestic abuse?

It’s pretty murky waters don’t you think?  Yet I want to be bold enough to suggest a simple rule for any Christian trying to get a handle on how to navigate the moral grey we find ourselves in.  It’s a rule taken from the apostle Paul writing about similarly grey areas of his own day…

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

How do I know what to do?  By asking myself not just “would God mind?”, but “can I actually do this for God?  On His behalf, in His name?”

We have to realise that ‘Christian’ doesn’t just denote something we do at the weekends, it is a term that defines the entirety of who we are and so qualifies everything we do.  I am not a Christian, a lawyer, a son, an Englishman, and a student (fill in the list as appropriate to you).  Rather, I am a Christian lawyer, a Christian son, a Christian Englishman, a Christian student.  Whatever I do and wherever I am, I do it and I am there carrying the name of Christ.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51bC2APLFLL.jpgAn example to elucidate the point.  Vincent Donovan, a Christian anthropologist, studied an indigenous tribe (the Masai) in east Africa and wrote about it in his book Christianity Rediscovered.  It is actually his report of a neighbouring tribe that I want to share.  This tribe were a dancing people, every aspect of life was accompanied by different dances.  Once they believed in Jesus, the eucharist became a huge celebration and one accompanied by dance.  Yet it began to shape their approach to every part of life.  They discovered that there were some dances they simply could not perform at the eucharist – it wasn’t right to dance like that in such a remarkable moment of unity with Christ.  But they recognised that if they could not perform a dance at the eucharist, then they couldn’t perform it at all. The eucharist was not just something they did, it was an expression of a relationship that defined who they were.  They were people of the eucharist.  They were Christian.

http://www.irisglobal.org/gallery/gal/24%20June%202010/IMG_8408.jpg

The same goes for us, for every Christian in every place across this earth.  We are defined by our relationship with Jesus Christ.  It’s a relationship that doesn’t stop once we leave the church building but remains in every aspect of life.  Think of the main aspect of your worship whatever churchmanship you’re from: taking communion, sung worship, prayer

ministry, whatever it is.  Now, every time you want to know what to do ask yourself this: could I do this for God, in His name, and in that place of worship?

So, whatever you do, whether in business, media, religion, education, politics, healthcare, family, or art, do it all for the glory of God in the light of the eucharist.

Is Jesus Enough?

http://dobbse.net/thinair/2004/05/finger-pointing.gifThe challenge of preaching is that your preaching is challenging.  They say that when you point the finger there are four pointing back at you (or at least 3 fingers and a thumb!).  When you stand with a microphone and the responsibility to voice what God is wanting to say to that group of people on that evening through that particular passage – then every word you utter resonates straight back in your heart too.  At least I hope and pray that it will never be otherwise!

On Sunday I preached a message that hit me with a challenge that will resonate for some time to come.  This isn’t a comment on the quality of the preach, but rather the significance of the word God gave me to speak.  You can listen to it here, but this is the crux….Is Jesus enough?  Just Him, not what He brings, gives or is able to do, but simply Him?  Whether we understand or not, even when the way he seems to act (or fail to do so) offends our sense of what he should do…is he still enough?

My text was John 6:25-40 – a conversation including Jesus’ famous declaration that “I am the bread of life!”  But what struck me is how this conversation is Jesus returning to the crowd he withdrew from at the start of the chapter in order to give them another chance to invite him in.

http://www.beliefnet.com/Prayables/Scripture/Loaves-and-Fishes.aspxYou see, the chapter starts with the feeding of the 5,000.  There is a crowd of thousands in a remote place and hungry.  So Jesus feeds them with a little boy’s packed lunch.  Jesus isn’t just generous and offers to buy everyone dinner, he does something totally beyond, something utterly unexpected.  Jesus doesn’t play by the rules we play by, he doesn’t even bend them slightly, rather it’s like he’s playing a totally different game.

Yet the crowd miss the point.  Confronted with a miracle that’s meant to be a sign, to be evidence of who Jesus is, they miss the invitation to receive Jesus and they simply see the free lunch.  They search around for some concept within their understanding of life with which to label Jesus.  They call him the ‘Prophet’ they’re expecting – not God himself come in human form – and then they try to control.  We read that they wanted to sieze Jesus and make him King.  So Jesus withdrew.

You see Jesus didn’t come to help us play the game of life better, to live a better life.  He came to give us a new life, to bring us into a new game, to enable us to live by different rules – where God himself is with us, our Father, our faithful provider.  Yet so often when we experience something of God’s power or an answer to prayer, we focus on the gift not the Giver, we seek to maintain life as we know it and simply add God on top.  We tame God with a label we understand and seek to control.  Jesus withdraws.

http://revbickers.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/e100-bible-reading-challenge-miracles_3.htmlThe very next event is another miracle.  The disciples are in a boat in the middle of the lake and a storm has arisen.  Jesus doesn’t just swim out like a hero to help them, he walks on the water towards them.  He plays by different rules.  The disciples are terrified, but all they need is Jesus to say ‘It is I’ and they invite him into the boat.  They don’t wait for a deeper explanation, to understand fully, to know what to do.  All they need is to know it is Jesus and they invite him in.  We’re told that immediately they reached the other side.  By inviting Jesus in they find themselves playing the other game, His game, with different rules.

The conversation Jesus has is him giving the crowd another opportunity.  He challenges them to lift their eyes from ‘food that spoils’ and to see the ‘food that lasts to eternal life’ right in front of them.  He explains that the only work they do is to believe in and receive Jesus.  To let Jesus in.  When they ask for a sign his message is simple – you’ve seen enough already – I’m here.  God himself has come in human form and stands in front of you – you’ve seen enough to know I’m good – all that remains is to invite me in.

I’m challenged.  How many times have I seen God move, experienced incredible provision, seen physical healing, known emotional change in my own heart?  And yet I’ve quickly focused on that provision not the Provider.  I’ve wanted Jesus so long as he continues to do what he has always done.  I’ve gained some understanding of how God works and I’m happy for Him to do so within those boundaries…but I don’t want anything that disrupts my grasp on how life works, on how God works.

Sometimes when it seems that God has stopped doing what He once did the issue is that we’ve started to control, to focus on that particular provision, to limit what God is allowed to do in our lives.  We’ve focussed on gift not Giver and so the Giver withdraws.  The incredible news is that He’ll always give us another chance – but are we open to the conversation?  To the challenge of our understanding and priorities that centers on the one simple question: is Jesus enough?  If we had nothing else, if He ceased to do all that we’ve known Him do before, if He gave us only himself – is Jesus enough?

The disciples amaze me.  After many have left because the conversation was so offensive, Jesus asks if they are leaving too.  They reply: ‘To whom would we go?”  These men left everything before they saw a single miracle, simply at the invitation to ‘come follow me’.  They’ve gone so far that it doesn’t matter if they understand or not, if they like it or not, they have nowhere else to go but where Jesus is.  I want to be in that place, to say ‘Jesus, you are enough, more than enough, no matter what – all I want is you.’

How about you?

Dwelling: The Christian Life Part 3

From: http://dailyjesusnow.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/dwelling-in-gods-secret-place.htmlFaithfulness is the center of the Christian life, perseverance is how we respond to opposition, dwelling in God is where the two come together.

Psalm 91 is considered by a number of scholars to be a psalm describing spiritual warfare.  (Why not read it now?)  The references to ‘the fowler’s snare’, ‘deadly pestilence’ and ‘the terror of night’ for instance, are probably references to demons and gods of the nations at the time.  In other words, this psalm is talking about how we find safety in the battle that we enter as Christians.

So how do we find safety?  The answer in this psalm comes in the very first verse:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91:1)

When it comes to opposition and spiritual warfare we are called to dwell in God.  There is huge similarity to the call to perseverance we find in Nehemiah.  Again it is John Wimber who helped me see this incredible truth that, no matter what the enemy may throw at us, nothing can harm us when we dwell in God.

Wimber describes how, during the second world war, numerous bomb shelters were being built near his home in America.  One day there was an accident by one of these shelters and a house was blown up.  Wimber remembers hearing a man say, “What a shame the house wasn’t in the shelter rather than near it!”From: http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/homefront/shel/shel2.html

God is our shelter, the one in whom we are safe.  It is not enough to live near God – to have right doctrine or remember a particular experience from time ago – we need to live in Him today and every day.

Dwelling in God is a journey.  It is a journey of intimacy.  And it is this intimacy that links perseverance and faithfulness together.

Jesus said “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.  The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them” (John 14:21).

Dwelling in God is to remain in love with Him.  As we love Jesus we are loved by the Father – this is the place of safety – the place where no opposition can harm us.

Yet this love and dwelling comes from obeying God’s commands.  Does this mean that God does want us to achieve for him, to fulfill his tasks before he will love us?  Only if we misunderstand the commands of Jesus.  The greatest command is to love God with everything we have and to love our neighbour.  The command Jesus wants us to obey is the command to love Him, to live with Him, to be His children – the command to be faithful.

Let me conclude like this: the three words of these three posts are different angles on the same theme.  Faithfulness. Perseverance. Dwelling.  There is a mission for the church, callings for every Christian, a purpose for which we are made.  These are important and worthy of all that we have.  But these are not the essence of the Christian life, they are not tasks God expects us to fulfill or goals we are meant to achieve.  We could do nothing to save ourselves before Jesus saved us and we can do nothing by ourselves to achieve the purpose Jesus saved us for.  We were saved when God brought us into relationship with Him and now the focus of our lives is to keep in that relationship.

Faithfulness means walking with God; perseverance means not getting distracted; dwelling in God means trusting we are safe when we simply stay with Him.  The Christian life is about faithfully persevering in dwelling with God.

Perseverance: The Christian Life Part 2

From: http://www.gembapantarei.com/2008/11/7_leadership_lessons_from_a_mountain_goat.htmlThe purpose of the Christian life is to be faithful – to live with God as the kind of person He has made us to be.  This is what we are called to focus on and put our effort into.  This is the essence of the last post.  But there is more.

There are callings that God places on our lives, things that He is wanting to do through us.  Ephesians 2:10 describes the Christian as God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works prepared in advance for us to do.  We are called to put our effort into being the person God has made us to be, but there is also a purpose he has made us for.  This purpose is something that God will work through us as we focus on living faithful to Him.

Yet I wonder how many of you have, like me, experienced the reality that when we put our face to the work God has given we begin to face opposition?  When we hear the call of God and decide to walk with Him, things often get difficult.  The fact remains that we are in a battle and this battle is real.  But how do we fight it?

Here the book of Nehemiah reveals a simple yet profound truth.  Our secret weapon in spiritual warfare is Perseverance.

Nehemiah is a book in the Old Testament that described the work of Nehemiah in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.  A number of years after God’s people had been exiled and Jerusalem destroyed, the Persian King gave Nehemiah permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city.  What we read both describes the historical situation and offers an example of how the Enemy brings opposition to God’s work and how we respond.

Opposition to the work comes mainly from Sanballat, the leader of the neighbouring people who did not want Jerusalem rebuilt.  Throughout the book we see numerous attempts from him to obstruct Nehemiah.  First he mocks and ridicules the very idea of rebuilding the wall.  Next he begins to threaten.  Later he calls Nehemiah to have a conversation giving a false sense of security, but then begins to spread lies that Nehemiah is seeking to revolt.

Mockery, accusation, distraction, and lies.  Ring any bells?  Anyone who begins to follow a clear call of God, no matter how great the experience that led to that call, will experience some or all of this issues.  Having moved cities or started a new role or stepped out in a particular way we’ll face ridicule that we’re being stupid, accusation that we’re doing the wrong thing, distraction that we should be busy with something else, and potentially even lies accusing us of things that have no basis in truth.  We may even find, like Nehemiah, that close friends of ours begin to speak the same things to us – even when well meaning.  It was one of Nehemiah’s friends who tried to convince him to hide in the temple due to fear that Sanballat was sending people to kill him.

What was Nehemiah’s response?

From: http://dwellingintheword.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/654-nehemiah-4/

This is what I find particularly interesting.  Nehemiah fought this opposition by simply keeping on keeping on.  He persevered with what God had said.

Too often we can slip into thinking, as soon as opposition raises it’s head, that we need to stop, turn aside and ‘deal with the opposition’ before we carry on with the work.  The assumption is that we must first make this opposition stop before we can continue with what God has called us to

John Wimber, whose teaching brought this to my attention, puts this wonderfully: ‘Nehemiah didn’t stop building the wall in order to fight the opposition. Rather, he fought the opposition by building the wall.’

Now, Nehemiah didn’t simply ignore opposition.  He took some precautions by arming some of the workers and setting people as watchmen.  He also brought every issue to God and we repeatedly read that, when accusation or threat came, he went straight to God in prayer and asked for help.  But he kept on building.

The Christian life is a call to faithfulness and the response to opposition is perseverance.  Why?  Because ultimately it is God who works through us to do what He has planned to do.  Our job is to keep in step with Him – to be the people He has called us to be in order that He can do through us what He has purposed to do.  There is no opposition that can stand in the way of that and there is nothing that can harm us when we dwell in Him.  And that is the topic of the next post.

Faithfulness: The Christian Life Part 1

From http://www.faithfulmagazine.blogspot.co.uk/Being Faithful.  That is the heart of the Christian life. It is the name of this blog because it resonates with me as being the simple center I want my life to be built around.  Whatever issue or situation we’re facing or thinking about, from personal finances to social morality, the focus point we always return to is the call to be faithful.

In these next three posts I want to reflect on three terms that have brought this home for me recently.  Faithfulness. Perseverance. Dwelling.

Faithfulness.

First things first: what does it mean to say that ‘being faithful’ is the heart of the Christian life?

It means recognizing that God has not called us to achieve but to follow.  His focus is not on what we do for Him but on who we are.  Think of it in terms of success.

From: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=faithful&aq=f&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=8n47UY_IN8rb7AaQjICIAQ&biw=1438&bih=754&sei=9X47UbHlA-KJ0AXMx4GgAg#um=1&hl=en&tbm=isch&sa=1&q=success+happiness&oq=success+happiness&gs_l=img.3..0j0i24.33143.36992.2.37060.17.11.0.6.6.0.53.495.11.11.0...0.0...1c.1.5.img.5xgH2AQ_Bkg&bav=on.2,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.43287494,d.d2k&fp=331fcdb54cbdf1dd&biw=1438&bih=710&imgrc=NsbHnIRHqKzcsM%3A%3BjbJOAbcVwp63OM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.actionforhappiness.org%252Fumbraco%252FImageGen.ashx%253Fimage%253D%252Fmedia%252F37928%252Fhappiness-success_230_x_240.jpg%2526format%253Djpg%2526compression%253D80%2526width%253D230%2526constrain%253Dtrue%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.actionforhappiness.org%252F%3B230%3B240It’s fair to say that most people today want to be successful.  We want to do well.  Bookshelves are full of titles designed to help us live better, be happier, to succeed.  For many, though we may not verbalize it quite like this, there is an underlying belief that if only we can succeed in the next thing we’ll be happier, more loved, more significant.

It is easy in this context to view Christianity as just another set of principles and ideas to help you succeed.  I know many Christians, and indeed was one myself, who essentially ‘Christianise’ the way of life, priorities and understanding that we had before coming to faith and meeting Jesus.  ‘Success’ may now mean not doing naughty things, bringing more people to church, telling more people about Jesus – but however we define it, succeeding remains the priority and the basis of our value.  God will like me if I do well.

The entire Old Testament demonstrates how, even when we are given God’s perfect rules, we are unable to live as the kind of people He has made us to be.  That is precisely why Jesus came and paid the price we could not pay on the cross, so that we could come close to God.  The incredible truth of the gospel is not that we are given even better rules, but that we have been made children of God.  That we have been made alive in Christ, rather than dead in sin.  That we have been made saints rather than sinners.

This is what it means to ‘become a Christian’ – that who we are is changed – but it also shapes what it means to ‘grow as a Christian’.

Having explained this incredible truth of the gospel – that we can now, through Christ, ‘participate in the divine nature’ (i.e. become like God) – Peter goes on to summarise what it is God wants us to actually do:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  (2 Peter 1:5-7)

‘Faith’ is trusting that what God says He has done for us, He has done – namely, that we are made new in Him.  He wants us to add to this ‘goodness’, then ‘knowledge’, ‘self-control’, ‘perseverance’, ‘godliness’, ‘mutual affection’ and ‘love’.  None of these are goals to achieve or things to do for God.  All of these are about the kind of people we are called to be, no matter what we are doing.  All of these are about faithfulness – living like God based on believing the truth about God.

There are things that God calls us to do, but these are promises of what He will do through us, not tasks we are expected to achieve.  The focus for all of our efforts is in being like God, which comes from knowing that we are with Him.  It doesn’t matter if you are an international preacher or a dinner lady, a president or a dustbin man – whatever we do we can live fully for God, being a completely successful Christian, as we focus on being the kind of person we are called to be.

Christianity is about faithfulness.

Asking Questions

Question MarkI remember during theological college being told over and over again about the importance of asking questions.  It is the central component of any genuine listening, it is core to forming authentic relationships, it is a key avenue for finding out how you can genuinely help or love anyone.  Questions, I was told, are important.  I agree.

I’m an extrovert by nature and I talk a lot (those who know me will verify!).  Learning to ask questions has, for me, meant learning to not jump to assumptions about what people are saying and to hold back on my responses until I’ve given them plenty of time to speak.  It has meant learning to own up to my ignorance or confusion about things people are saying so that I actually find the truth, rather than pretending to know what they’re talking about.  It has meant learning patience, humility and love.  These lessons have been learnt the most thoroughly, and led to the greatest benefit, in my most intimate relationships.  Right up there among them being my marriage.  Asking questions and (very importantly!) waiting to answers, even ones I don’t like, has deepened my relationships across the board.

So, what about in our most important relationship, the relationship that (for those who believe at least) defines all the others?  What about in our relationship with God?  Do we ask Him questions?  Do we wait for answers?

It was maybe 8 years ago that I remember first being struck by the idea that I could actually ask God questions and He might answer.  I’m not just talking about musing to myself over theological concepts or conundrums of life, but asking specific questions about everything from ‘who have you made me to be?’ to ‘what do you think about this person?’ to ‘what can I do to bless you today?’ or ‘what are you up to in this place today?’  If God is a distant being known only through words on a page then any questions we have we need to deal with amongst ourselves.  But if God is our Father who relates to us even so intimately as filling us with His Spirit – His very presence – then we’re in a two-way relationship and communication is open.  For me, this radically changed my faith.  A new life came into it along with a joy and dynamism because it no longer became simply about following precepts in a book, but about being aware every moment of the presence of my Father with me, speaking, loving and moving.

So why did it take so long?  I think because, probably like many others, I wondered whether God could really actually speak to me.  Would he?  How would I know if he did?  Understanding a few key things helped me with all this….

1. Jesus told us He would speak.  John 10:27: “My sheep listen to my voice, I know them and they follow me.”  If you’re a sheep you can hear.  From the first

Logo for the excellent pre-school at St Mary’s, Loughton

Word at creation through to Jesus answering his disciples’ questions away from the crowds, the Bible is full of God coming and speaking to His people.  Jesus’ promise was that if we’re a sheep we would hear – we can listen, be known (in relationship) and follow.  Not only can we hear God, but we can know that it is Him.

2. How do we know?  A major question for me was ‘How do I know it is not just me?  It feels too natural.’  Sometimes we’re waiting for a bolt out of the blue, an audible voice or writing in the sky.  Yet if we’re made for relationship with God then we are designed to hear His voice – it is natural.  God often speaks to me with words and phrases that pop in my mind because I’m a words person.  I know others who hear God through pictures because they think pictorially.  The imagination God has given us is a huge means by which He speaks and often it will seem like the most natural thing in the world.  So we don’t discount it from the outset….but how do we know?

3. Community, obedience and intimacy.  Not an exhaustive list, but three key parts of discerning God’s voice.  Intimacy – like any person, the better you know them the better you know their voice.  You get to know them by spending time with them and listening to them.  Give time to being with God, waiting for Him to speak, getting to know His character, what He’s like.  Obedience – listen and do it.  I learnt to recognise God’s voice as I began to try and follow it.  I made a choice to stop waiting until all my doubt was removed and what He may have said sufficiently analysed before acting on it – I began to act.  As I followed gentle promptings I began to discern more easily what was me and what was Him – it becomes fairly obvious as you walk it out!  Community – we don’t walk alone.  Talk to others who know Him well – ask them how they hear God speak – ask them to weigh up with you what you believe God is saying.  Look to Scripture.  The Bible is written by our community – God will say nothing that contradicts Scripture, though He may speak about things not explicitly in there (like who to marry, where to work, etc).

So, what do you think? Does God speak today?  Ask me any questions, let me know any thoughts, tell me how God speaks to you and what this means for you….I’d love to hear, so why not leave a comment or answer the poll and continue the conversation?